Games I play: Final Fantasy XVI

Final Fantasy XVI is not the 16th Final Fantasy. There has been tons of games carrying the name. It is, however, the 16th numbered entry in the long-running RPG series. That number comes with a certain set of expectations. Expectations that Final Fantasy XVI really doesn’t care for—but don’t tell anyone it said so.

If you’ve followed Final Fantasy for a while, it’s not really a surprise that the sixteenth entry finally goes full character action game. On a never-quite-successful quest to re-invent itself after series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s departure, Final Fantasy is constantly trying new things. It’s a tale of fumbles and bad timing. Final Fantasy XIII was a beautiful but linear game released when the gaming population had just realized they like a sprawling open world littered with side quests. Final Fantasy XIV’s an MMORPG where the first version was so bad they re-made the entire game. Final Fantasy XV was so ridiculously ambitious that a lot of it was left on the cutting room floor. Its “multi-media” nature also meant only a small percentage of players got the intended experience.

With that in mind, Final Fantasy XVI actually does a lot of things right. It’s a self-contained action role-playing game where you take the role as Clive, son of the Archduke of Rosaria, as he gets progressively more intertwined with the politics, and ultimately the fate, of the world Valisthea.

This of course means that Clive has to do a lot of fighting. Lucky for him, Clive can harness the power of Eikons—magical creatures most Final Fantasy fans will recognize. Depending on your skills and which Eikons you use, gameplay style can change drastically. I even discovered some skill combos that doubled or tripled my damage output, so there’s definitely some depth here.

Final Fantasy XVI also retains a lot of the feeling of Final Fantasy. The mascot characters are present, there are nods to past titles, there’s story in focus that goes from local to global scale, and the ever-present eikons (AKA eidolons, GFs, espers, aeons, summons, etc.) are still as cool as ever. You also have a real cute dog, so that’s a plus.

Still, a lot of the defining characteristics of the games that shaped the Final Fantasy franchise are not here. Gone is the turn-based combat, the ragtag party of misfits that save the world, the grand overworld map filled with secrets, and the traditional RPG tropes. It’s something to be aware of.

Things I liked:

  • The sheer spectacle of it all, especially the boss battles look incredible
  • Fast, fluid, and fun combat
  • Clive is a great protagonist with some actual feelings
  • Plenty of nods to past Final Fantasy titles that were easy to appreciate
  • The music is very good, particularly some of the boss battle tracks
  • Engaging story, particularly when they finally raise the stakes beyond regional politics
  • Some very likeable characters (looking at you, Charon and Uncle Byron)
  • It’s the perfect length and there’s no up-front DLC or other silliness

Things I didn’t like:

  • Sidequests always appeared at the worst possible time and felt not like a welcome break but an annoying distraction from the main story
  • It’s unfortunate that some Eikons unlock very late in the game as you’ll have less time to have fun with them
  • The world is quite drab overall, leaning heavily into pig-farmer fantasy

All in all, I really enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy XVI. It isn’t very similar to the Final Fantasy games many of us love and perhaps even expected, but it’s a great game in its own right. I believe the biggest problem with Final Fantasy XVI is simply that it was named Final Fantasy XVI.